Friday, February 29, 2008

The Paperback Fanatic #6

If you're interested in the history of genre publishing, as I am, let me recommend the new issue of The Paperback Fanatic #6, 42 large size pages packed with a look at British genre publishing in the 70's and 80's.

The major focus is on a long interview with the recently deceased Peter Haining. He began as a Fleet Street newspaperman, decided to free-lance genre paperbacks and then went on to become the editor who had a hand in creating everything from the famous western series Edge to introducing a the next step up in mass market soft core. In the course of the fascinating interview, you hear such well-known names as Christopher Priest and Peter Tremayne--appearing here in their younger days--and a number of colorful, occasionaly certifiably insane paperback hacks who ground out whatever Haining needed. They even managed to turn up an old-fashioned bigot to write a series of action novels starring Skinheads. Fortunately for everybody, it flopped.

There's also a history of the name Peter Saxon, how it all started with Sexton Blake, its many variables and guises in the 60s, 70s and 80s. Again if you like tales of hackery--as I do--this one is rich with desperate men and women grinding out novels for a living.

Phillip Hartbottle, editor of the 70s science fiction magazines, gives us a lengthy overview of the magazine's history. He also looks at the sf trends of that decade. Choice stuff.

Editor Justin Marriott is in the process of creating one of the most important magazines non-fiction genre magazines ever. And because theincidents here are set in London they all sound classier than they probably were. :)

Thursday, February 28, 2008


For those of of you who've been asking off line about my health...I got a good six month report today.

My nomination for the sexiest Gold Medal cover of all time is The Baby Doll Murders by James O. Causey. Barye is the artist. Ran across it today on my oldies shelf. What I like about it is that the woman is actually beautiful and all the more erotic because of a simple blue slip. No hooker with a .45. Also the layout is really fine. As for the book itself, I reread it about ten years ago and it still worked. Causey was good.

From a reader who works in law enforcement but shall remain nameless:

"Inside the vehicle, officers located personal hygiene items, clothing, bills and other mail, food, two buck knives in sheathes, and the following adult DVD(s): Dream Teams 2; Rookie Whores - Just 18, No. 2; Think Outside the Box; Blonde Factory; and All Aboard the Sodomy X-press A-Train."

Sounds like a possible John McCain advisor to me--maybe GOP Roger Stone (if you've followed his X-rated and racist adventures)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Standing in the checkout line at the supermarket today I saw the weekly country western mag. The photo and feature article was about some new young dude who, among other tings, discusses his visions of God. Give me Hank Snow any day. All he had were visions of Jim Beam.

Will somebody please introduce TV pitchman Billy May to the concept of microphones. Really, Billy, you don't need to shout. Those microphone gadgets actually do convey your voice to the folks at home.

Tim Russert/Chris Matthews (I'll let my cousin Terry Butler handle this--from an e mail today):

"Did you see (probably not since you hate both of the fuckers--me too) him and Matthews yukking it up after, Matthews talking about it as if Russert was a high school football player that had just beat up an opposing quarterback. Russert reminded me of an umpire who thinks he's more important than the the players and the game itself.
Matthews even referenced The Old Man and the Sea, telling Russert he thought he got that "Marlin a little closer to the boat" when talking about the line of questioning that got Clinton to admit she regretted her vote on the war. Disgusting. Russert bragged about "tough questioning" as if he was a voice for the people, vetting the candidates. We don't need your help, you bulging, bloated toad."

Ty Pennington the smarmy host of Extreme Makeover. I've mentioned him before. I don't think I've heard such a tricked-up voice since the great Tony Randall used to do mock radio announcer voices. All that bogus breathiness and bullshit Concern for Humanity. In his spare time he probably strangles swans.

Press bimbo Dana Perrino. It's a good thing she's good looking because otherwise we'd realize just how stupid she REALLY is.

Bono who has apparently never read about being over-exposed.

The right wing talk show hack who intro'd John McCain last night (of course McCain knew nothing about this Billy Cunningham who is on five hundred radio and stations and who spent time with McCain's people coming up with ways to fir eup the troops):

"“Now we have a hack, Chicago-style Daley politician who is picturing himself as change. When he gets done with you, all you’re going to have in your pocket is change,” Cunningham said as the audience laughed.

The time will come, Cunningham added, when the liberal-leaning media will “peel the bark off Barack Hussein Obama” and tell the truth about his relationship with indicted fundraiser Antoin “Tony” Rezko and how Obama got “sweetheart deals” in Chicago. He said he envisions a future in which “the great prophet from Chicago takes the stand and the world leaders who want to kill us will simply be singing Kumbaya together around the table with Barack Obama.”

Nobody has yet pointed out that when you watch him walk andyou realize that he's a long way from the masculine ideal (and I don't mean gay). One more ugly little munchkin and fake tough guy to infest the airwaves..

Steve Marlowe

I ran across this letter from Steve Marlowe containing the following paragraph:

"You mention Peter Rabe. He and I met in the late '50s when we both were spending some boozy time trying futilely to save bad marriages in Torremolinos while it was still, mas o menos, an unspoiled fishing village. I was living in a house that Bill McGivern had occupied before me, and Peter in a house a hundred yards or so along the ridge above the village. A copa of wine cost a penny or two in those days and a four-liter jug about a quarter. When that became the reason you were living in Spain, Bill McGivern told me a year or so earlier at his farm in Bucks County, it was time to leave. We were drinking Jack Daniel at the time and there was a you-don't-have-to-believe-this look in his eye. (NB. The good folks at Jack Daniel used to send me an occasional case because it was Chet Drum's favorite drink.)"

Stephen Marlowe- New York Times Obituary

Stephen Marlowe, 79, Detective Novelist, Dies

Published: February 26, 2008
Stephen Marlowe, a prolific writer of popular fiction best known for his crime novels featuring the globe-trotting private eye Chester Drum, died on Friday in Williamsburg, Va. He was 79 and lived in Williamsburg.

The cause was myelodysplastic syndrome, a bone-marrow disorder, his wife, Ann, said.

Mr. Marlowe wrote more than 50 novels in a range of genres, from crime to science fiction to historical fiction. The Chester Drum books combined elements of the hard-boiled detective story and the international espionage thriller.

Drum made his first appearance in 1955 in “The Second Longest Night.” Known familiarly as Chet, he was a tough unmarried ex-cop who kept a bottle in his office and a .357 Magnum at his side. Based in Washington, he took on cases involving international intrigue that in nearly two dozen novels took him to exotic locales around the globe.

Other titles in the series, all published by Fawcett, include “Mecca for Murder” (1956), “Murder Is My Dish” (1957), “Killers Are My Meat” (1957), “Drum Beat — Berlin” (1964) and “Drum Beat — Marianne” (1968).

With Richard S. Prather, Mr. Marlowe wrote “Double in Trouble” (Fawcett, 1959), in which Drum joins forces with Mr. Prather’s series sleuth, Shell Scott.

For the rest:

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Cinema Rerto recommends a very intersting piece about celebrity that I'd thought I'd highlight here.

B bathed in the spotlight
By Elizabeth Guider
Feb 22, 2008

Here's a concept you don't think about much anymore: mystique.

But because it's Oscar time, it seemed appropriate to remind folks that mystique was the essence of stardom at one time: that alluring quality of effortless aloofness and unstudied mystery that defined the divas and leading men of old. Think Greta Garbo, Cary Grant, Kim Novak and so on. However contrived or calculated the creation of their personas, something authentic arguably shone through and contributed to their popularity and their enduring boxoffice appeal. Today, who's got it? Ever fewer, though Clint Eastwood in my book is still a shoo-in.

The trick is not easy to pull off. Stars have to contend with an increasingly pushy promotional machinery as well as the tell-all tabloid culture that has been dumped on (or demanded by?) the public, pretty much reducing mystique to the waste bin of history.

So what do we have now? Countless celebs checking into rehab facilities, driving under the influence, punching out paparazzi, commoditizing their babies or cooling their high heels in the caboose. And not just Britney, Lindsay and Paris.

One PR veteran put it to me this way: "Like decorum, (mystique) is a virtue or a gift that no one seems to care much about and that not many folks know how to cultivate -- or make pay off for themselves."

For the rest

Monday, February 25, 2008

Business; More Steve Marlowe

1) A woman named Teri Moran sent me a collection with a story of hers in it. I read it, liked it but owing to a computer crash lost her address. If you know her, ask her to contact me. I tried her publisher but got no response.

2) I've given my complete run of Mystery Scenes to Coe College. There are two articles I'd like to rerpint but have no idea when they appeared. One is by Steve Marlowe about his Gold Medal experiences; the other is by Robert Colby on his own experiences there. If any of you come across them sometime I'd appreciate you copying them and sending them to me. Or faxing them at 319 363-9895. I'd like to reprint them on my blog.

3) Three of you wrote me off-line about how I'd come to know Steve Marlowe. I knew him vaguely from Private Eye Writers of America but I'd been reading him since I was twleve. He was in virtually every action science fiction magazine published in the Fifties. He wrote under several names but I knew the main ones and always looked for his material. He was a great pulpster. Later of course I started reading his Gold Medals and other hardboiled novels. He was always one of my favorites.

When I started scouting novels for Greg Shepard at Stark House I recommended that we do two of Stev'es. A Chet Drum to be sure but I wanted ot pair it with what I thought was one of his finest--if not THE finest--of his stand-alones, a long forgotten Ace called Turn Left At Murder (not Steve's title needless to say).

So Steve and I started talking and e-mailing and one day he asked me about my cancer. In those days I wasn't talking much about it publicly. My first case of cancer filled my earlier blog. I didn't want to do that again so I mentioned it but didn't dwell on it in the updated blog. But I went into detail with Steve because he told me, after a time, that he had a similar incurable disease.. He asked me not to share this information with anybody. I honored his request. As I recall we talked twice about facing our inevitable deaths. We weren't especially gloomy. Neither of us wanted to die but there wasn't a hell of a lot we could do about it. We both hoped to be working right up to the end.

Well, Steve's wish came true. I convinced him to write his autobiography. After the war he'd traveled the world and seemed to have met everybody everywhere in the world of crime fiction. I'm happy to say that the book stands at seventy five per cent finished and that Greg Shepard will be publlishing it next year.

Here's another piece from Steve that I ran last year:

Stephen Marlowe on collaborating with Richard Prather

Almost exacty fifty years ago, Richard S. Prather and I decided--with a nudge from our mutual agent--to write a novel pitting our two private eyes, Shell Scott and Chet Drum, against each other until they could realize, almost too late, that they both were working the good side of the street in a complex case with nationwide implications. This was the novel that would become DOUBLE IN TROUBLE, published by Gold Medal in 1959 at just short of double the length of a standard Gold Medal book.

There were circumstances that made the first draft, when we finished it, half again as long as that.
For one thing, until then, we had never met. We developed the plot as we went along, mostly by long-distance phone call. There were telegrams too, including one that went something like "Body of Hartsell Committee lawyer found in Rock Creek Park" that must have startled the Western Union operator.

For another, our work habits couldn't have been more different. Dick liked to plan carefully as he went along, writing a detailed outline, chapter by chapter, from which he developed a first narrative take and then an expanded one that would become his first draft. I liked to work by instinct, writing as the ideas came, and outlining a chapter only when I'd finished drafting it. I'd got to calling this a post-outline, and it would prepare me for subsequent chapters, and it is still the way I write.

Well, we finished that first draft by writing alternate chapters, as those of you who read the book may remember, Scott narrating chapter 1, Drum chapter 2, and so on--to a total of more than eight hundred pages--enough for three Gold Medal books. Drastic measures had to be taken.

Ever been out to the Coast? Dick asked me by phone. Nope, I hadn't. Well, said Dick, come on out and we'll help each other cut. How? I said. There was a silence. Maybe, I suggested half-heartedly, I cut your deathless prose and you cut mine. Maybe, Dick said. Come on out.

So a couple of days later I flew out of Idlewild for LA, and was met at the airport by Dick Prather and his wife, Tina, in a snazzy pale blue Caddy.

"It's yours while you're here," Tina said.


"Well, you see, we'll work together at the house but we figured you'd like some privacy, so we booked you a room at a seaside motel."

"So the car is all yours while you're here," Dick explained.

The Prathers were like that--private people but the best hosts I'd ever known.

Their house was a modernistic, mostly glass cube high on a cliff overlooking Laguna Beach.

We couldn't wait. We set right to work in the brilliant Southern California sunshine. It went like this:
"How about this paragraph in chapter two, where Drum says--well, take a look. Not exactly deathless prose, is it?"
Dick asked. "And it doesn't really advance the plot, does it?"

I bristled. "What about here on the very first page, where Scott says..." I countered.

Dick pointed out something else that needed cutting in chapter 2; I did the same in chapter 1.

Tina suggested, "Why don't we have a drink?"

We had gin-and-tonics on the terrace. I watched a hummingbird hover over an exotic tropical flower. "Nice view," I offered. I had never seen a hummingbird hover before.

"We can go for a drive in the hills later," Dick suggested. "Pretty nice country up there."
We both smiled.

"Boys," Tina said. "You have a book to cut."

Either Dick or I sighed instead of saying, "Sure, and he wants to cut my part to ribbons."

It was as if Tina heard the words. "I have an idea," she said. "But maybe you won't go for it."

"What's that?" either Dick or I, or maybe both in unison, said doubtfully.

Tina smiled disarmingly. She was very pretty. "I'll sort of be the referee," she said.

And we finished our drinks. And the hummingbird veered off with its nectar. And we went to work.

By dusk we'd done a first pass through the first two chapters, cutting excess verbiage. In a tie--at first they were almost always ties--Tina supplied the deciding vote. And pretty soon it became clear that she was as objective as could be. We had to cut a couple of hundred pages, and it didn't matter to Tina whether they were her husband's or mine. We all wanted the same thing, after all.

It took two weeks, with an occasional half day off for a drive or walk, an occasional night on the town. The Prathers were a team, their love for each other obvious, their ability to work together and bring a third person into that work remarkable. I was going through a bad patch at the time with my first wife, and I envied them. Looking back on it from this remove, I think they became the template for my second marriage.

The Prathers were unassuming and always gracious. Even our political differences--they were conservative, I liberal--didn't seem to matter.

And Dick, as we made our way chapter by chapter through the revision, tried to give too much of the credit for the detection to Chet Drum. So I began to give more of it to Shell Scott. Turned out a dead heat. We were friends.

The book? DOUBLE IN TROUBLE went through several printings and made an appearance on the NYTimes softcover best-seller list.

Tina Prather died a couple of years ago, Dick earlier this month. Working with them meant a lot to me in more ways than one, and I'll never forget them.

--Stephen Marlowe

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Stephen Marlowe

I want to start re-running a few of the pieces Steve wrote for my blog. So long, Steve.

Stephen Marlowe remembers Evan Hunter

In the early 1950s, when we first met, he was still Sal Lombino and I was still Milt Lesser. Sal, a Navy veteran and sometime schoolteacher, was working the phones for a wholesaler of lobsters in New York, taking orders from restaurants, and I was working as chief editor–at the grand old age of 23–of a large literary agency, having been hired straight out of college because the agent, Scott Meredith, didn't like to advance editors through the ranks and dreaded resorting to a classified ad in the New York Times, knowing it would result in a couple hundred wannabes storming his office. I'd got the job on a tip from sci-fi writer Damon Knight the day before Meredith would have placed his ad, and I worked a year or so before deciding to give up the munificent salary of 40 bucks a week (raise to 50, if I stayed!) to freelance full-time–this on the basis of a couple of sci-fi stories I'd sold to Howard Browne at Amazing Stories.

I well knew the problem of those wannabes storming the gates, because interviewing for staff positions had become one of my jobs at the Meredith office. How to winnow the applicants? Well, I wrote a short story called "Rattlesnake Cave," intentionally the worst short story ever written, though on the surface it seemed plausible. Applicants for the job, before being interviewed, wrote a critique of the story, and it swiftly cut the number from hundreds to a handful.

The wholesale lobster salesman, Sal Lombino, showed an immediate and instinctive grasp of all I'd intentionally done wrong in the story–and maybe a few things I hadn't realized I'd done wrong. He wryly observed that this story hadn't come in over the transom, as I'd claimed, but had been concocted for the purpose, and dared me to deny it. I didn't. Milt Lesser became the freelance writer and Sal Lombino the editor who wrote nights.

The Meredith office in those years was a spawning ground for writers, some of whom stayed on for years, some hardly long enough to hang their hats. Two who come immediately to mind are Lester del Rey and Don Westlake, but there are others.
By the mid-1950s, after a couple of years that Sal spent at the agency and I in the army, we were both freelancing. Sal/Evan lived in Hicksville, NY, with his wife Anita and their three children, and I a few miles away in Syosset with my wife Leigh and our two daughters. We had drinks and dinner every month or so, until it became apparent that Leigh and Anita disliked each other. Both were New Yorkers born and bred, both were brash and bright. Possibly they saw in each other aspects of themselves that less than pleased them.

Sal by then had written a couple of suspense novels and a short story that in 1954 became his groundbreaking first straight novel The Blackboard Jungle. Earlier, when Popular Library was about to publish the first suspense novel, Sal had put the pen name Evan Hunter on it. Nice name, I said. He smiled, waiting for me to ask how he'd come up with it. I asked. "Simple," he said. "I went to Evander Childs High School and Hunter College." He would sometimes later deny the origin of the name, but that was what he told me then.

And so a writer with a brand-new name was born, and he made it his legal name (half a dozen years before I changed mine). He quickly needed another one, as Ed McBain split off for the 87th Precinct.

Evan was the easiest writer I ever knew. By this I mean that his stuff just flowed, as they say, swift as a mountain stream, letter perfect, as fast as he could type. And he avoided revisions like the plague. I wrote that way too, when I was young. Evan wrote that way the rest of his life, and the quality of his work never diminished.

One morning out of the blue he phoned me to ask for a short-short story to fill a hole in Ed McBain's Mystery Magazine, which he was editing. When did he need it? That afternoon. We batted it around for a while, and I sat down and wrote "Drumbeat" in about an hour, took the train to New York, and gave it to him. We both smiled. In a way I'd accepted his challenge, as he'd accepted the challenge of "Rattlesnake Cave." "Drumbeat" has been anthologized more times than I can count. Evan was contagious that way.

But our friendship got hung up for a time on the rock of geography and our wives' mutual dislike. I began to wander the world in search of background material for my globe-trotting private eye, Chet Drum. Evan, meanwhile, was a quintessential New Yorker. How he loved that town–and showed it in every page of his nameless 87th Precinct city. The geography may have been turned on its side so that Isola was a sort of horizontal Manhattan, but the entire city itself was straight-up New York, though in the 87th Precinct's fifty novels he never called it anything but this city.

When I next saw Evan, in the 1980s, it was not in New York. After some phone tag, we caught up with each other in London, where I was lunching at the Groucho Club with my second wife, Ann, and Liz Calder of Jonathan Cape to celebrate the publication in the UK of my novel The Memoirs of Christopher Columbus, and Evan was at Claridge's with his second wife, Mary Vann. I had reason to thank Evan. A couple of years earlier, I'd begun to write Columbus but felt very insecure about such an offbeat novel. I wrote to Evan and he urged me on. After I finished it, four good U.S. agents said its anachonistic tone made it unsalable. It was many months–by which time Ann and I were in Spain with scarcely a peseta–before a Brit agent saw it, loved it, and sold it at auction. Other countries followed, including the USA, with advances of the sort I'd never seen before. Evan didn't know any of this until I wrote him a long letter that seemed to be saying, "You and your advice, thanks for nothing, pal"–until I divulged the good news at the end. The letter didn't fool Evan. Hey, he wrote back, I write mysteries too and I know how to foreshadow happy endings, but I didn't peek at the ending, I read your letter in the order you wrote it.
In London we had lunch, and I met Mary Vann for the first time. She was very much the Suth-ren belle, and my wife Ann had been born in a village on Canada's Gaspe Peninsula, literally within sight of spouting whales. Both had done some writing–Ann had published a trio of romantic suspense novels, Mary Vann a literary novel. As they felt each other out, a look passed between Evan and me, as if to say, Is it happening again?

Evan and I stayed in touch, and back in Connecticut for a spell, where the Hunters owned a splendid house in Norwalk and the Marlowes rented one in Madison, we got together periodically. Evan and I talked nostalgically about old times and with great optimism about what we still planned to do. (Like most writers, we both lived as much in the future and the past as in the present.) Our wives remained as studiedly sweet to each other as only women who disdain each other can.
Ann and I wandered overseas again, and came back to find that Evan and Mary Vann had split, and Evan had found the delightful Dragica (called Dina early on, until Evan decided people could handle Dragica's real name)–and Ann and Dragica liked each other!

In all the years I knew him–half a century and more, on and off–Evan's writing never changed, except to get better. "One and only," indeed. Long friendship aside, he was the sharpest, clearest, and best suspense writer I ever knew.
posted by Gormania at 5:42 AM

Stephen Marlowe

From the Rap Sheet:

It was just a year ago that novelist Stephen Marlowe (né Milton S. Lesser) lamented the death of his onetime writing colleague, Richard S. Prather. Now, Marlowe himself has passed away at age 79. He died yesterday, February 22, in his hometown of Williamsburg, Virginia. Marlowe started out penning pulp detective and science-fiction yarns; however, he is best remembered for his series of novels featuring Washington, D.C.-based but world-traveling private eye Chester Drum, beginning with The Second Longest Night (1955). Drum’s last novel-length adventure was in Drumbeat: Marianne (1968), but he made a welcome reappearance in a 2003 short-story collection, Drumbeat: The Chester Drum Casebook (Five Star). In addition to the Marlowe pseudonym, Lesser also wrote as C.H. Thames, Jason Ridgway, Andrew Frazier, Adam Chase, and once even as Ellery Queen, producing Dead Man’s Tale (1961). He received The Eye (Lifetime Achievement Award) from the Private Eye Writers of America back in 1997.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Lists; Excuses; Simon R. Green

The Telegraph (UK) has a list of Fifty Crime Writers to Read before You Die.

Like most such lists it's fun, completely subjective and occasionally bizzare. Nothing to quibble about with the classic authors though two or three of the contemporary ones strike me as more trendy than substantial. And no Ross Macdonald. (I've scanned this three times and do believe he's missing.) Which makes the two or three trendy selections especially irritating.

But well worth a look.


Every year about this time a few of you write me off-line to ask if I'm going to the Edgars. I'm afraid not. I'm not good in crowds (potential lynch mobs) and maybe it's the fanboy in me but I don't feel right being in the presence of my betters. I hope I don't sound like Uriah Heep here--immodesty as a mask--but I mean that. I think I belong in Cedar Rapids.


I've been reading my way through Simon R. Green's urban fantasy/horror series and really enjoying myself. If you're looking for something different in your p.i. diet, the Nightside series is worth your tim. If you remember a great sleazy song called "One Night in Bangcock" you'll have some idea of what does on in the mean sttreetsof supernatural London.

Opening of all the books:

"My name is John Taylor. I've made that a name to be respected and feared, but it's also made me a target my whole life.

"I operate as a private eye, in a world where gods and monsters are real. The Nightside: the sick, secret magical heart of London. A place where dreams come true, whether you want them to or not. It's not easy to find a way in, and it can be even harder to find a way out. I can find anything, solve any mystery. Except the answers to the dark and deadly secrets of my own past.

"My name is John Taylor. And if you've come looking for me, either you're in trouble, or you're about to be."

Friday, February 22, 2008

Mignon G. Eberhart

After the war, my family settled into an Irish Catholic workingclass neighborhood where some of the most popular figures, besides the Pope of course, were Bing Crosby, Barry Fitzgerald, Loretta Young and, for the women, Mignon Eberhart. Her books were passed around like coin of the realm. My spinster aunt had a section in her small bookcase that was devoted entirely to Eberhart. No other author was allowed on these hallowed shelves.

After I'd plowed through the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and Ellery Queen, Jr. I started reading some of the Eberharts at home and in the neighborhood. I liked her. The mysteries were really mysterious and the hermetically sealed worlds she created introduced me to a higher class of glamor than one found in the streets of Mickdom.

Eberhart was the Mary Higgins Clark of her time. Hugely successful and a master craftswoman. She's pretty much forgotten today but a good deal of her work still bears reading, at least if DEAD YESTERDAY AND OTHER STORIES, the new Crippen & Landru Los Classics collection, is an indication.

Editors Rick Cypers and Kirby McCauley divide her work among four protagonists-Sarah Keate, a middle-aged nurse; Susan Dare a young mystery writer; James Wickwire (one of her rare male leads); and Melvina Standish, another nurse.

The pieces are almost all fair-clue, heavy on atmospherics and observant in a melodramatic way of real life. (If you think I'm kidding about her atmospherics, no less a writer than Gertrude Stein congratulated the young Eberhart on her ability to compose chlling scenes.)

Part of Eberhart's popularity was likely her ability to anchor her hyper-plots in the real world. You learn stuff when you read Eberhart. Nurses are really nurses. When you're at a party, she tells you how's it laid out. And when she wants you to dislike somebody, she makes a quick and convincing case.

This is the kind of collection you take down from the shelf every once in a while for a change of pace. She was a talented woman and I thank Crippen & Landru for bringing her back.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Brian Moore

Independent Crime tonight features a Gold Medal novel by one Bernard Mara. Mara and Michael Bryan were two pseudonyms used by literary writer Brian Moore before he was established in the mainstream. The Maras are good stuff. His specialty was taking genre and populating it with people who were odd enough to be real. He did much the same with his literary novels.

Here's Wikipedia:

Brian Moore (August 25, 1921 – January 11, 1999) was a novelist. His Christian name is pronounced in Irish (Bree-an). He published twenty novels, was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1975, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize three times and also worked as a screenwriter. His distinctively simple, lucid style gives his works a highly powerful effect. He remains possibly the only novelist to encapsulate life in Northern Ireland in the post-war era, including his exploration of the intercommunal divisions of The Troubles. He also demonstrated an unusual male insight into female psychology, with women as the central narrative character in several of his books.

Here are his paperback originals:

* Wreath for a Redhead (1951) (U.S. title: Sailor's Leave)
* The Executioners (1951)
* French for Murder (1954) (as Bernard Mara)
* A Bullet for My Lady (1955) (as Bernard Mara)
* This Gun for Gloria (1957) (as Bernard Mara))
* Murder in Majorca (1957) (as Michael Bryan)
*This Gun for Gloria (1957) (as Bernard Mara)
* Intent to Kill (1957) (as Michael Bryan)

His crime fiction wasn't nearly as good as his literary fiction but it has a style (esp. the Maras) that made the reading wortwhile.

I'm partial to his novels The Luck of Ginger Coffey, An Answer from Limbo and Black Robe.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Mystery Scene #103

This is a particularly rich issue just out now. A long piece on Minette Walters; Cagney and Lacey 25 years later; Scooby-Doo, crime fighter (a really interesting take on the cartoon character); Joan Druett whose mysteries take place on the high seas on the early 1800s; five questions with some very interesting answers by S.J. Rozan; and an exceptionally fine overview of William Campbell Gault's career by Jon Breen. Plus Kevin Burton Smith on hardboiled films and all the other regulars as well. No other magazine in the non-fiction field comes close. Here's the website. If you care about mystery fiction at all, you'll be a subscriber. Kate Stine and Brian Skupin have made Mystery Scene the class act of the genre. For more information here's the website

Monday, February 18, 2008

Gorge Tuttle and Gold Medal Books

I wish somebody would collect all the pieces that George Tuttle has written about the field of paperback originals. For me he's the best historian that subject has ever had. I was reminded of this when I stumbled on his take on the emergence of hardboiled.

Here's a sample from the piece:

Noir came truly alive with the advent of the first line of paperback originals, Gold Medal Books. The paperback original provided noir with its medium. It was not as inhibited when it came to sex, and was willing to tackle this darker, more cynical type of fiction. It is not surprising that James M. Cain was able to publish Sinful Woman (1948), Jealous Woman (1951), and The Root of His Evil (1952) as originals when he had failed to sell them to hardcover or magazine markets.

Though Gold Medal published some test runs in late 1949 and early 1950, the line didn't become fully operational until May 1950. Gold Medal's relationship with noir fiction developed slowly and didn't truly come into full force until Richard Carroll became editor in February 1951. Carroll had worked previously as a story editor in Hollywood. This is possibly why he was open to this dark brand of crime fiction.


Gold Medal was the leader in noir fiction, discovering writers like Charles Williams, Peter Rabe, Gil Brewer, Clifton Adams, John McPartland, Marvin Albert, and Vin Packer, publishing noted works by Harry Whittington, Day Keene, Lionel White, Wade Miller, Bruno Fischer, David Goodis, Benjamin Appel, Dan J. Marlowe, and eventually, Jim Thompson.

Gold Medal realized quickly that noir was profitable. House of Flesh (1950) by Bruno Fischer sold 1,800,212 copies; Hill Girl (1951) by Charles Williams sold 1,226,890; 13 French Street (1951) by Gil Brewer sold 1,200,365; and Cassidy's Girl (1951) by David Goodis sold 1,036,497. Soon, other paperback publishers like Lion, Dell, Ace, Popular Library, Beacon, Monarch, and Avon followed Gold Medal's lead. Lion Books, in particular, carved its own special niche by brining Jim Thompson to the forefront.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


Our favorite deputy sheriff Mark gives us one more reason NOT to live in China.

One more reason Lawrence Block is such a cool dude--this kind of control and mastery has always fascinated me. Block really is a mastermind. From Mystery*File blog and Steve Lewis:

One more thing. I’m going to quote Curt Purcell as to something he said on the rara-avis Yahoo group about three of Lawrence Block’s early books, Grifter’s Game, The Girl with the Long Green Heart and Lucky with Cards, all available under these titles from Hard Case Crime: “… in each of these three stories, the grifter debates how best to part the rich guy from his money and put him out of the way, and each time he arrives at a solution he rejects in the other two.”

Now that’s pretty neat, isn’t it?


The Doctor is in

Mark Evanier at News From Me notes that today is Doc Savage's 75th birthday:

"My pal Anthony Tollin reminds me that today is the 75th "birthday" of Doc Savage, it being that many years since the publication of the character's first issue. It was on February 17, 1933 that the great pulp hero debuted, the creation of writer Lester Dent. Hiding under the pen name of Kenneth Robeson, Dent wrote most of the 181 Doc Savage novels that appeared in the original run.

"I recognize the importance of the character in the development of the "super hero" (some call him the first) and I also note that a lot of my friends love to read and re-read Doc Savage novels. That's a nice way of easing into the fact that I somehow never managed to warm to the Good Doctor. I tried...lord, how I tried. I read a Doc Savage novel and didn't like it, and when I told a friend who loved the books, he told me, "You picked the wrong one. That's the one nobody likes" and he recommended another of the books."

For the rest of the piece go here

Ed here: I'd split the difference with Mark. I've read some Docs that I thought were entertaining enough but the majority of them ranked a solid ten on my famous Snore-o-Meter. Maybe it was the dorkiness of all his pals. Frederic C. Davis was my favorite hero pulp writer. Loopy as a guy with a fishbowl on his head was (yes, I mean YOU Moonman), Davis managed to bring a real darkness to the tales. The atmosphere of the Depression was present in a lot of his early work. Same with his material during the war. He managed to bring some reality to even the most flambouyant of his work.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Female noir

There's been some discussion on a couple of blogs about female noir. Steve Lewis lead of with an excellent overview of Ursula Curtiss's dark domestic mysteries and Juri Nummelin responded in laying out the basic elements of the sub-genre.

Juri Nummelin Says: Steve Lewis
February 15th, 2008 at 11:56 am

Yes, sure, that’s the main point, but I think the lead character should have to be a woman (well, in that case, Curtiss’s novel wouldn’t fit) and the settings would have to be somewhat mundane and ordinary, just everyday life which is suddenly filled with terror. I think, and I must point out that this is based only on hearsay and not any research, that female noir was mutated into gothic romance in the late sixties and seventies. Gothic romance just became so formulaic so soon that it got difficult to tell its roots.

And I also think that female noir, for some reason or another, isn’t so strong on negative endings as male noir. Even though Dorothy Hughes is pretty bleak in her own novels that fit the bill. (Not her last one, what’s it called, from 1963?) Margaret Millar and Patricia Highsmith have also rather pessimistic endings. I wish someone with better knowledge than mine would do an article on female noir. Wait, Kevin Burton Smith is writing a book on female hardboiled authors, so he’ll be covering this ground too.

Ed here: then tonight on Vintage Hardboiled Reads August West talks about my longtime favorite Elizabeth Sanxay Holding:

The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding
Pocket Book 662, Copyright 1947

I have aways heard fine things about this story and after passing it over may times to read something else, I finally got around to it. It's a strong psychological thriller, with a fine dose of mystery. The story of upper-class Lucia Holley obsessively protecting her family from scandal during WWII.

"And all that had happen to her would be, must be, pushed down, out of sight; the details of daily living would come like falling leaves to cover it."

While her husband is away at war, Lucia Holley is left with the responsibility of caring for her teenage children and her husband's father. These are the days of rationing coupons, shortages and lonely letters to loved ones in war. She is approached by a blackmailer that has some scandalous letters written by her daughter to an older man. Lucia, unable to pay the amount, starts a lonely struggle to do anything to protect her family. There is a killing and later a murder, which is related to the blackmail attempt. Lucia is spiraling with worry and panic as her involvement deepens.

Usually the female authors I read have male characters as protagonists in their crime stories. I was always stuck on Leigh Brackett, Dorothy Hughes, the Jim Sader novels by Dolores Hitchens. I was presently surprised with the characters in "The Blank Wall," especially Lucia Holley and Martin Donnelly, and I be looking forward to reading more from Elisabeth Sanxay Holding.

Note: Two movies based on this novel. "The Reckless Moment" (1949) and "The Deep End." (2001)

Ed here: August makes the point that Holding isn't hardboiled and I think that's true. But that doesn't mean she isn't more psychologically complex --and thus more rewarding--than many hardboiled writers. She had a streak of Edith Wharton in her fascination with the upper classes. Her novels are studies of their manners, whims, hypocrisies and failures. As Juri points out the terror of the everyday can be just as grim as the terror of the dark alley.

Holding used a variety of tropes in her work. The shipboard romance becomes a portrait of a fetching even likable gold-digger (who won't admit to herself that she's a gold digger) and a wartime murder that may involve espionage. She was also capable of pure phantasmagoria. I'm sure that Dorothy B. Hughes was a fan of hers. There are marked influences in Hughes' novel In a Lonely Place and several of Holding's books. Enriching her suspense elements was her sly quiet humor. She believed that we were all fools on one big Ship of Same. Raymond Chandler called her the best suspense writer of his generation. Even if he was bombed when he said it, it is still true.

I'm glad to see that Kevin Burton Smith is going to write a study of these women. They certainly deserve to be read.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Family Plot


Fake medium Madam Blanche (Barbara Harris) and her taxi driver boyfriend George (Bruce Dern) make a living by scaming people with her phoney powers. They are hired by an aging widow, Julia Rainbird, to find her nephew who was given away for adoption many years earlier following a family scandal. Meanwhile, an extremely clever couple, diamond merchant Arthur Adamson (William Devine) and his attractive girlfriend Fran (Karen Black), are behind a series of kidnappings of various VIPs in the San Francisco area. The two couples paths soon cross and chaos results in Hitchcock's last film. Written by Col Needham {}

Ed here: On his fine blog Martin Edwards makes some interesting points about the late work of Alfred Hitchcock. I agree with him about Topaz. It's the only Hitchcock movie I ever felt like leaving early.

In passing Martin makes a favorable comment on one of my favorite Hitchcock pictures, Family Plot, the outline for which I've posted above. With one exception--Hitchcock's rather clumsy and incessant use of rear-screen projection--I'd put this in his top ten.

Barbara Harris and Bruce Dern are Sixties street people who are in fact hippie criminals. Harris is endearing in a whacked out way; Dern is as usual dour, suspicious, pissy. He's almost as good as James Garner at playing pissy (Rockford had to be the pissiest PI of all time, no small part of his charm and believeability--you wouldn't be pissy if you had a friend like Angel?).

William Devane is all teeth and arrogance as a self-described master thief and Karen Black erotic and fascinating in her Karen Black way.

The plot ingeniously brings these two couples together as their combined machinations lead the audience to a brilliantly staged third act twist.

This is one of those oddball little charmers that the mainstream critics of the time just didn't seem to understand.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Howard Browne

Over on Rara-Avis there's a letter about the late writer and editor Howard Browne.

If you were an adolescant science fiction-fantasy reader in the Fifties Howard was likely one of your favorite people. He edited both Amazing and Fantastic, the Ziff-Davis publishing twins that offered the kind of adventure sf only a teenager could love. Early in the decade he edited Fantastic when it was upscale with stories by Ray Bradbury, John Collier, Shirley Jackson, etc. But nobody bought it so Ziff-Davis ordered it back to its gaudy past--action stories with purple Venusians, lots of rays guns, hard-boiled interstellar dudes and innumerable lovely interstellar babes. I loved it. For five years those were my two favorite magazines. Later I'd learn that most of the stories I especially liked were by Robert Silverberg. Some of them hold up pretty well today.

Late in my teens I started reading Howard's "Halo" series of mysteries. They owed a lot to Chandler (he insisted they owed a lot to James M. Cain too) but eventually they got rolling on their own entirely. They are well worth reading. He was a good writer line by line and a much better plotter than Chandler.

I mention all this because when I began editing Mystery Scene one of my goals was to get Howard in the magazine. He was somebody I'd always wanted to meet (via phone). He ended up writing three or four pieces of his autobiography for us. He was a great storyteller and a prescient judge of character.

I probably talked to him fifteen times over the years, sometimes at length. A lot of the talk was pretty funny and pretty cynical on both our parts. But then one night he called to say that he wouldn't be finishing his autobiography for the magazine as planned. His wife had died and he said he would never write again. He said that one night he'd gotten out of bed and gone to the bathroom and when he came back a few minutes later she was dead.

He spent his final days in a nursing home. California people put on a big birthday party for him. I'm sure he got a hell of a kick out of it. A great guy, a fine writer.

Here's a long obituary by Jack Adrian no less.

Independent, The (London), Nov 15, 1999 by Jack Adrian
HOWARD BROWNE was that unusual beast, a writer who not only succeeded on both sides of the editorial desk, but who was equally at home in two quite disparate genres, hardboiled detective fiction and SF/ Fantasy. His fantasy, in particular, was of the swashbuckling kind, a million miles - or rather, bowing to the genre, a million light years - from his tales of mean streets, mainly written under his pseudonym John Evans (one of many: others included Lawrence Chandler and Lee Francis).

He successfully jumped media, too, as well as genres, turning, when the pulp magazines began to wither and die in the early 1950s, from writing punchy, riveting prose to creating compelling screen- and tele-plays. And, like all able fictioneers, even at an advanced age he could still turn disaster into triumph - two rejected screenplays, "The Violent World of Jake Lingle" and "A Bowl of Cherries", upon which he had lavished much care and attention, he transformed into a brace of fine late (very late: he was then in his mid-eighties) novels, Pork City (1988) and the hilarious Scotch on the Rocks (1991).

Howard Browne was born in Omaha, Nebraska, the son of a baker, in 1908, and began his education in Lincoln, Nebraska. However, he dropped out of high school and rode the rails (i.e., hid in the boxcar) to Chicago to seek his fortune. He worked as a legman, or stringer, for a local newspaper before, at the age of 21, securing a post as department-store credit manager, a position he held for over a decade and which gave him an unparalleled insight into the psyche of his fellow men.

for the rest go here:

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Mike Ripley; Randy Quaid

One of the finest writers and wits of the mystery field Mike Rippley hs a new edition of Getting Away With Murder available and as as usual he reveals shocking sides of his personality. Here he shows us how long he can hold a grudge.

Viking Invasion

I have to admit to deliberately resisting, in the past, the growing tide of Scandinavian crime-writers. My reasons for this are not irrational. We in the East of England have long memories and there are still unresolved matters as a result of the last Viking invasion of Maldon (991 AD). True, it was mostly Danes involved, but old scars run deep.

Randy Quaid

I've seen Randy Quaid in so many sad vulnerable roles (comedy and drama alike) that I've apparently confused his frequent persona with reality.

From Cinema Retro

Randy Quaid must be the Max Bialystock of modern times, given the way he has seemingly sabotaged his own play. He has been barred from Actor's Equity for life and fined over $80,000 for outrageous behavior during the Seattle run of a Broadway-bound play called Lone Star Love. According to New York Post drama critic Michael Reidel, Quaid physically and verbally abused fellow cast members, tried to change creative elements of the show and in generally acted like a boor. The producers closed the $6.5 million show, citing Quaid as the central cause. It's hard to get actors to even agree on a lunch menu, but Quaid seems to have Ghandi-like knack of bringing people together in a common cause. Every member of the cast signed the complaint that was sent to Actor's Equity. During the hearing, Quaid didn't bother to show up- but his former limo driver/now wife, Evi did. In an alleged tirade that went on for hours, she variously accused Quaid's accusers of being "pinkos" and "Nazis". (Evi obviously needs to read a few history books to bone up on the fact that Communists and National Socialists were mutually exclusive movements.). Quaid, whose last major role was as an unsympathetic red neck rancher in Brokeback Mountain, quit the production on January 25 and is said to be appealing Actor's Equity's decision. Meanwhile, we hear he's starring in the life story of Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, who wrote How to Win Friends and Influence People. To read more click here

Posted by Cinema Retro in Movie News on Friday, February 8. 2008

Monday, February 11, 2008

Roy Scheider

From Jeffery Wells and Hollywood Elsewhere:

Roy Scheider is gone
Posted by Jeffrey Wells on February 10, 2008 at 06:20 PM

Roy Scheider, who had a brilliant eleven-year run as a near-movie star during the '70s and early '80s, portraying a series of anxious, somewhat bruised urban hard guys in a nearly unbroken run of top-drawer films, died this afternoon in Little Rock, Arkansas, according to the N.Y. Times. He was 75 years old.

Scheider had "suffered from multiple myeloma for several years, and died of complications from a staph infection," his wife told the Times.

Scheider's eleven-year hot streak began with his breakout performance as "Cloudy", Gene Hackman's partner in William Freidkin's The French Connection ('71). His next two films, The Seven-Ups and Sheila Levine Is Dead and Living in New York, were substandard but Scheider scored big with his Chief Brody role in Steven Spielberg's Jaws ('75). He was almost as good the following year as Dustin Hoffman's older intelligence-racket brother in John Schlesinger's Marathon Man ('76).

For me, Scheider's peak was his lead role in Freidkin's Sorcerer ('77) in which he played the role that Yves Montand became famous for in Henri-Georges Clouzot's Wages of Fear, the 1955 French film that Sorcerer was a remake of.

His performance in Jonathan Demme's Last Embrace ('78) was emotionally raw and close to the bone. He was even stronger as a Bob Fosse-like character -- a self-destructive womanizing choreographer -- in Fosse's All That Jazz ('79). I saw Scheider give a gripping, first-rate performance as the cuckolded publisher husband in a Broadway production of Harold Pinter's Betrayal, with Blythe Danner and Raul Julia. His last reasonably decent role in this streak was Dr. Sam Rice in Robert Benton's Still of the Night ('82) with Meryl Streep.

From then on things started to go downhill. Scheider worked and stayed in the groove as best he could, but he seemed to take more and more straight-paycheck jobs. I thought Blue Thunder devalued him because it was basically crap despite the money it made. Playing Dr. Heywood Floyd in 2010 was a terrible thing to have done. Every film he made from '82 on was either bad, so-so, "meh" or tolerable. The only half-decent film he did in his getting-older-and-grayer period was Bart Freundlich's The Myth of Fingerprints ('97).

Ed here: I generally agree with Wells' take on Scheider's career. Someday somebody will recognize just how important a movie Sorcerer really is and how Scheider created a hardboiled character few other actors could've understoood let alone brought to the screen. Same with his take on Bob Fosse. A genius performance.

I'd also mention his performance in Elmore Leonard's 52 Pick-Up. Not a perfect movie, true. Several years ago I was doing a long piece on Elmore Leonard and Dutch I spent some time talking about 52. I agreed with him that the Anne Margaret role (though she did a good job with it) was a trumped up piece of writing that almost ruined the entire picture. Still and all Scheider shines and the three bad guys are really bad.

For me the Scheider story doesn't end there. He suffered from the same incurable cancer I have, multiple myeloma. When I aread the story in the NY Times this morning two things struck me. One that he'd died of a staph infection and two that he ws in Little Rock, Arkansas. This is where many mm patients to have stem cell transplants, the procedure that, if successful, can give you some extra years. The transplant is rough. You are blasted with so much chemo you're near death in some instances. And you have absolutely no immune system. So catching any kind of disease can be fatal very quickly.

The multiple myleoma blogs are filled with speculations about what happened to Schieder in that hospital (I'll have mine at Mayo thank you). Following transplant you're in isolation for quite a while. How do you pick up a staph infection in such a situation? One doctor who has mm mentioned the possibility of a lawsuit but I wouldn't know. Fifteen years ago I had a surgery and got a staph infection. The sickest I've ever been and an extra eight days in the hospital. If I'd had mm then I would have died.

Of course the goon squad is out full force. Following Welles excellent piece on Scheider bloggers write in. Here's my favorite, slightly incoherent but loud and clear in its ignorance and malice:

Posted by: fielding at February 10, 2008 10:51 PM

Sure it's sad, but if you're going to get myeloma and be 75, it's like a form of passive-aggressive almost-suicide. Scheider had this coming.


Posted by: dave l at February 10, 2008 11:19 PM

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Michael Caine; Greg Shepard; Whitney Houston; Donald E. Westlake

So all those episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm where Larry keeps interviewing insane chefs are true?

Michael Caine on being in the restaurant business (from Cinema Rettro):

It's not as if Caine needs the money. He is a very wealthy man, largely because he once owned three hugely successful restaurants. "I sold them all 10 years ago. I found that chefs were more annoying than bloody movie stars. They're so temperamental. You can't say anything to them. And I picked all the nutcases, I did. So I got out. Someone offered me a fortune and I left."

A hardboiled guy gets soft-boiled: Greg Shepard, publisher of noir and hardboiled Stark House, e mailed me:

Just read your blog entry for Ms. Whitney. The very first mysteries I ever read were Phyllis A. Whitney mysteries, as published by Scholastic Books. First read them in junior high. I loved those books. Wish I could remember more than a few titles: Mystery of the Disappearing Cat, Mystery of the Isle of Skye. I may not even have those right. But I do remember loving those books, so rich in characterization, and always filled with great mysteries. Phyllis A. Whitney will be missed by many, but I miss her just because she was the very first writer to introduce me to the wonderful world of mysteries.

She's Back

I've never been a big Whitney Houston fan (beautiful woman but not an interesting singer) but it's nice to see her come back. This is from Roger Freidman's column:

What a difference a year makes!

At last year’s Clive Davis’ annual pre-Grammy gala, Whitney Houston barely left her seat and didn’t even rise to meet Al Gore. She was tentative and fragile.

But last night at the Beverly Hilton, it was a fully restored, fun-loving Whitney who moved around the ballroom with grace. She spent a chunk of the evening away from her table with Davis’ family and hung out with Alicia Keys’ gang, including collaborator Kerry “Krucial” Brothers and manager Jeff Robinson down near the stage.

“Write some good things about me,” Whitney said, and we talked about her upcoming album. She’s healthy and focused and clearly engaged. She watched clips on the video screens of her past performances at Davis extravaganzas, I thought, with a little yearning. Maybe next year, she’ll be back up there.

Some quotes from Donald E. Westlake from Brainyquotes:

I don't do anything about maintaining quality, I just try to tell a story in such a way as to interest myself. I leave questions of quality to others.

I don't know that any one book was of larger than normal significance in my career. My method has been more like water torture, one drop at a time.

I find characters who are at cross-purposes with society, or opposed to society in some way, interesting because they are by definition the underdogs.

I had an idea for a multiple robbery story that I thought would be ideal for Parker because it would irritate him so.

I loved it, but social reality impeded. Now I wander in here at 9 in the morning or so, and come back for a while in the afternoon. I am a very lenient boss.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Phyllis A. Whitney

Both Steve Lewis and Bill Crider are reporting the death of Phyllis Whitney. I'm excerpting her NY Times obituary below. In the course of editing Mystery Scene I worked with Phyllis several times. She was a charmer. And a worker, her last bestseller appearing when she was 94. I started reading some of her books after getting to know her slightly. I really liked the early ones best, the working-girl mysteries set in the war years of Chicago. They were romances, yes, but not sappy ones; and she was a true and honest reporter of what she saw in the city.

February 9, 2008
Phyllis A. Whitney, Author, Dies at 104

Phyllis A. Whitney, a prolific best-selling author of romantic mysteries, young-adult novels and children’s mysteries for more than a half-century, died on Friday in Faber, Va. She was 104 and lived in Faber.

Her death was confirmed by her daughter, Georgia Pearson, who said the cause was pneumonia.

Ms. Whitney, who once said she stayed young by writing, continued to publish books until she was 94. Her last was “Amethyst Dreams” (1997), about a young woman who stands to inherit a fortune but who has disappeared from a family seaside villa. Only her best friend can help find her.

Her first book, in 1941, was “A Place for Ann,” a young-adult novel about girls who create a personal service organization doing jobs like dog walking.

In all, Ms. Whitney produced 39 adult suspense novels, some with a Gothic twist (with titles like “Woman Without a Past” and “The Glass Flame”); 14 novels for young adults (“A Window for Julie,” “Nobody Likes Trina”); 20 children’s mysteries (“Mystery of the Scowling Boy,” “Secret of the Missing Footprint”); several books about writing; and many short stories for magazines.


HIn 1988 Ms. Whitney received the prestigious Grand Master Award for lifetime achievement from the Mystery Writers of America.

“I always told myself that when I get old I’ll reread all my books, but I never seem to get old,” Ms. Whitney said in an interview with The Times when she was 79.

She said that one of her writing tricks was to set her books in places she had visited. She called her vacations book-hunting expeditions.


Ms. Whitney’s travels began early. She was born Phyllis Ayame Whitney on Sept. 9, 1903, to Charles J. Whitney and the former Mary Lillian Mandeville in Yokohama, Japan. (Ayame means “iris” in Japanese.) Her father was in the shipping and hotel business.

Her parents had met in the United States and become sweethearts but initially broke up. Afterward, Ms. Whitney’s mother married another man, Gus Heege, an actor, and they had a son, Philip. After Mr. Heege died, Ms. Whitney’s parents reunited in Japan and married there. Phyllis was their only child.

Her parents’ story was the inspiration for one of Ms. Whitney’s plots, about a love affair gone awry.


Her first book in the adult suspense genre was “Red Is for Murder,” published in 1943 by Ziff-Davis with a picture of a blood splatter on the cover. It tells the story of Linell Wynn, who writes sign copy for a department store and whose life has been uneventful “until the day that murder walks the floors at dusk,” according to the book jacket.


Ms. Whitney ascribed her success as a writer to persistence and an abiding faith in her abilities. “Never mind the rejections, the discouragement, the voices of ridicule (there can be those too),” she wrote in “Guide to Fiction Writing.” “Work and wait and learn, and that train will come by. If you give up, you’ll never have a chance to climb aboard.”

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Friday, February 08, 2008

The Captain Must Die

I've seen a few recent references to one of the great overlooked Gold Medal novels, The Captain Must Die by Robert Colby. If you want a feel for the real Fifties in the form of a grim caper novel, this is your book. It's tight, deftly plotted and one of those hardboiled novels that is genuinely tough without showing off.

Bob Colby was a nice guy who struggled through a four decade run as a free-lancer. He never had the hit he deserved. I wouldn't say he was major but his books usually had a nice sweaty noir desperation to them. His people were often more interesting than the stories they were involved in. He had a bittersweet sense of the failed man in a society that despises failure, the man always looking for the long chance who never seems to understand--or even anticipate--that the long chance will destroy him.

I got to know him in the last six or seven years of his life. He'd spent his early life in radio and tv and you could tell that by the smooth, almost courtly way he did business. They were gentlemen back then. His glory days were with Richard Carroll at Gold Medal. Apparently Knox Burger didn't like his stuff and he was soon shuffled off to places like Monarch.

He's worth looking up. If you read nothing else, make it The Captain. It's damned fine book.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Libeled Lady

My screwball comedy mania continues...

You couldn't call Libeled Lady a masterpiece but it has so many fine moments that it's well worth watching. TCM ran it this afternoon. I've seen it twice in a year and the second time was even better.

With a cast that includes Myrna Loy, Jean Harlow, William Powell and a very young Spencer Tracy, Lady is one of those knockabout farces that keeps you watching by the sheer force of its audacious plotting.

Loy is a chilly heiress who feels that she's been libeled by Tracy's newspaper. If she wins the suit, Tracy and his paper fold. Harlow is Tracy's long suffering fiance. Tracy plans to force Loy to call off her suit by catching her in a scandalous moment of her own. He hires Powell to befriend her, trick her into a compromising position and then she'll be forced to call her off her legal action.

Here's the kicker. Tracy's plan requires bachelor Powell to have a wife. It's this wife who'll break in on Powell and Loy when they're embracing. Harlow will wail and carry on and threaten to go to the newspaper. Loy will back off. But who'll marry Powell in a sham marriage? Why, Harlow of course--and at fiance Tracy's urging.

My favorite exchange comes late in the first act when Powell, having recently met Loy, asks her to dance. He says several things to her that he assumes will impress her. But they don't.

He: "I thought I was being rather clever."
She: "I thought you thought you were being rather clever."

Harlow's especially interesting here. I never quite got her as a sex goddess. For me she tried too hard. But in comedies she's naturally sexy and a part of it is her simple put-upon sweetness. Really a nice job here.

You can get this on DVD for sixteen bucks if you're so inclined.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

That old old argument

Galleycat today summarizes a story that will probably provide blog fodder for at least a week.

Tuesday Feb 05, 2008

The Ol' Genre vs. Literatute Debate, Again

Sunday's NY Times "Week in Review" featured a short essay by Charles McGrath that takes inspiration from the recent case of Joan Brady, an author who recently made headlines in England for an out-of-court settlement from a shoe factory near her home for physical damages and what the press initially categorized as, in McGrath's summation, "a loss of concentration that caused her to abandon the literary novel she was working on... and instead crank out a potboiler."

"What's behind the Brady controversy," McGrath writes, "is the assumption that genre fiction—mysteries, thrillers, romances, horror stories—is a form of literary slumming."

Ed here: for eighteen years I edited Mystery Scene and for too many years I refeered dust-ups over which was "better" hardboiled or cozy. I finally got tired of running them and concluded, with my usual brilliance, that we read what gives us pleasure. That pleasure can be emotional, intellectual. philosphical, sexual but fiction has to enrich us in some ways. Yes, most cozies are false representations of reality. So are most novels of the tougher strain. And as for genre being literature...mostly I don't give a rat's ass if it's literature or not. The argument yea or nay gets tedious, usually ending with somebody offering sweeping praise for books that are probably fine genre novels but not my idea of real literature.

NOTICE: I need a webmaster. Somebody who dosn't charge too much, somebody reliable.(This is optional of course-- somebody who can make me tall, handsome brilliant, wealthy and cure my cancer while he/she is at it.) Let me know if you know somebody Thanks, Ed

Monday, February 04, 2008

From the Western Writers of America

January 3, 2008
James Reasoner

From the Western Writers of America:

Longtime Western writer and WWA member James Reasoner and wife Livia lost their house and studio, and all their belongings, in a fire earlier this week. They're OK, as are their dogs and children, but got out with only their clothes they were wearing. Books, pulps, comics, everything else, gone.

"This is totallyoverwhelming," James says. To help the family, Western Writers of America and Kensington Books have agreed to make sizable contributions and ask anyone who would also like to contribute to send cash donations to the WWA Executive Director's office in Albuquerque, N.M.

Make the check out to Western Writers of America and put in the memo that the money is for the James Reasoner Emergency Fund. Checks should be mailed to:

MSC06 3770
1 University of New Mexico
Albuquerque, NM 87131-0001

Since James and Livia also lost their sizable library, donations are also being sought to help restock their bookcases whenever they have a new home. Kim Lionetti, Livia's agent at BookEnds, has generously agreed to accept any BOOK donations and keep them until the Reasoners have a place to put them. Books should be sent to:

Kim Lionetti
BookEnds Inc.
136 Long Hill Road
Gillette, NJ 07933

Our thoughts and prayers are with James, Livia and family during this tryingtime. Thanks for your help.

Johnny D. Boggs
WWA Vice President

John Farris

One of the great thrills of my teen years was reading Harrison High written by a guy who was barely out of his teens himself. Mr. John Farris. Loved the damned thing. It was wisely observed, well written and as real and important in its way as Peyton Place a few years earlier (high praise from me). My admiration for Farris has never lapsed. He's written so many good books it's difficult to believe he's not as popular as some of the cheeseheads grabbing the headlines today. He's a fine craftsman and a true artist.

I mention Farris because tonight the Mystery-File blog's Steve Lewis takes a long and incisive look at numerous Farris novels:

"It has just occurred to me that John Farris has one of the longest careers of any mystery writer still active. His first novel, The Corpse Next Door, was published by Graphic Books, a small but solid line of mostly paperback originals, in 1956. Farris was born in 1936, so if the book wasn’t published until he was 20, the odds are the most of it was written when he was still nineteen.

"He switched to the pen name of Steve Brackeen for his next few books, typical Gold Medal thrillers, except that Gold Medal didn’t do them. One of them, Baby Moll (Crest, 1958), will be reprinted by Hard Case Crime later this year under his own name, a mere 50 years later.

" Farris eventually became the author of the “Harrison High” books, which sold in the millions, and he became an even bigger seller once he started writing horror fiction that was invariably tinged with the supernatural. Books like The Fury (1976) and All Heads Turn When the Hunt Goes (1977) are as close to classics in the field as you’re going to get, and yet … even though Farris has averaged close to a book a year since those two books, unlike Stephen King, Dean R. Koontz and mystery-wise, Ed McBain, who came along about the same time he did, it is as if no one’s ever heard of him. Nobody knows his name."

for the full piece go here

Steve also recommends an equally fine piece on Farris by Bill Crider which you can link to from Steve's piece.

"Harrison High wasn’t a Gold Medal novel, but it was a huge influence on me. I read it in 1959 in a Dell paperback edition, and I was consumed with unseemly envy. I wanted to be John Farris. I mean, here was a guy not much older than I was, and he was already a wildly successful writer. But I didn’t know the half of it. Here’s the some more of the story: Farris sold his first novel the summer he graduated from high school, and it was published the next year. It’s a mystery called The Corpse Next Door, and it was a paperback original from Graphic Books. It’s not bad at all. Just don’t look at the cover when you read it, because the cover gives away the killer.

"Farris must have been all of nineteen or twenty when he wrote Baby Moll. I don’t think anybody would have known that by reading the book. There’s a maturity here way beyond Farris’ years. The kid could write: “The Neptune Court occupied two blocks of beach land on a narrow peninsula known as Fontaine Beach. It was a mushrooming resort center. Ornate motels and hotels done in bold lines sprawled along the strip of highway in a growing chain. Every day bulldozers scraped at the raw land while sun-reddened men with fat stacks of blueprints watched and planned. The street crumbled away under the impact of the ready-mix trucks.” Remind you of any other Gold Medal writers you know? I think John D. MacDonald and Mickey Spillane were two big influences on “Steve Brackeen.” "

Sunday, February 03, 2008

She Likes to Watch

There's a reason Heather Havrilesky is one of my favorite media critics. She writes very tasty copy. Here's are excerpts from today. The column is much longer. Read it free on

I Like to Watch

From Bravo's "Millionaire Matchmaker" to HBO's "Bernard and Doris" to NBC's "Lipstick Jungle," boss ladies reign supreme!

By Heather Havrilesky

Feb. 3, 2008 | Philosopher Immanuel Kant argued that free will formed the basis for morality. This was 200 years ago, back when human beings could be trusted to use their free will to enrich civilization. Sometimes they did this by exploiting or enslaving other human beings, but hey, at least they were industrious.

These days human beings are oversize toddlers who need to be spanked and sent to their rooms without any supper. In the absence of external punishments or rewards, most of us would lie about in our beds all day, soiling ourselves and crying for someone to bring us a cheeseburger. Isn't that what becomes of the very rich, who answer to no one and have the money to pay people to clip their nose hairs for them?

Today, we must be robbed of our free will if we're to accomplish anything at all! We need ruthless bosses who know just how to shame us into being a little less useless and repugnant. Whether they're our overbearing supervisors, our pushy wives, our disrespectful therapists, our opinionated mothers, our meddling spiritual gurus or our overconfident, domineering children, it doesn't really matter. Without them, we limply await our marching orders and become unbearably depressed when there's no one there to give us detailed, slightly demeaning instructions, or to hold our hands and confirm that we're just as worthless as we feel.

Personally, I've been looking to hire a Boss of Me for years now, but qualified applicants (pushy, intimidating professionals) aren't generally in the market for such a thankless unpaid position. Even knowing this, I hold out hope that one day I might be oppressed by a tyrannical overlord who never tires of saying things like, "What are you reading? Don't you have a column due in an hour? Close your browser and get to work, maggot!"

Make me a gold-digging sea donkey!

Others must share my longing for a personal oppressor. What else would explain the proliferation of Bossy Expert reality shows from "Tim Gunn's Guide to Style" to "Flipping Out" to "How to Look Good Naked" to "Make Me a Supermodel." TV teaches us that, with the right team of despotic consultants, we might shed our sorrowfully incompetent skins and join the über-human race.


...Take the imperious matriarch of "Millionaire Matchmaker," Patti Stanger, whose calling in life involves bringing together two subsets of society that would otherwise have trouble finding each other: men who want women who are hotter than hell, and women who want men who are richer than hell.

"Millionaire Matchmaker" (10 p.m. Tuesdays on Bravo) covers all of the basic requirements of the Bossy Expert reality-show formula: We start with a pushy, outspoken professional, throw in a team of helpful but oppressed underlings, add a few hapless rich guys and a gaggle of gold-digging sea donkeys, braying over the idea of landing a man with lots of cash in his pockets. To these basic ingredients, we add that crucial spice of all reality recipes, shamelessness. Patti doesn't need to be coaxed into playing the Colorful Egomaniac. She's more than happy to loudly demean her underlings and her clients for the sake of the cameras.

As Patti drives to one client's house in a particularly aggressive mood, she snappily informs the camera. "We're on our way to see Jeff, the millionaire rocker who's still living in the '70s. And he's not really rocking, he's a software guy, trying to live out his childhood fantasy that didn't really materialize into anything!" Um, the guy's got bad facial hair, wears cowboy boots and plays piano -- does that really make him a self-deluded asshole?

But don't tell that to Patti. Patti sees self-deluded assholes ... everywhere! "Millionaire men who were perpetually geeks in their youth, once they make a few bucks, they automatically think that gives them the card to get into the cool club. Sometimes they go over the top without an ounce of style or taste. It's my job to tell them that they don't look so cool," she explains. Sweet mother of Mary. What does give you a card to the cool club? Flat-ironed bangs and a TV show on Bravo?


We meet some of these mythical ladies at a party Patti holds for two clients during each episode. Now, far be it from me to cast aspersions on these young women. Even the best of us sometimes think, "Why not replace the regular, reasonably nice guys I date with filthy-rich, reasonably nice guys, and then I can spend most of my time getting spa treatments, shopping for uncomfortable shoes, and jetting off to Italy to snack on cured meats instead of toiling away at a pointless job for the rest of my life?"

Ed:r Heather Havrilesky is always a blast.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Deadlier Than The Male

Of Deadlier Than the Male by James Gunn*, the novel that became the basis for the Robert Wise film Born To Kill, the French Director Claude Chabrol said: "It has a freely developed plot and an absolutely extraordinary tone, pushing each scene towards a violent, ironic and macabre unexpected dimension, a poetic depth..."

I'd put it more simply: If there is a hell, these are the people you'll find in its deepest part.

The story concerns a psychopath (in the movie well played by Lawrence Tierney) and a beautiful brittle gold digger (played with equal skill by Claire Trevor) and how they come first as partners of a sort and then as enemies. It is Swiftian in its contempt for humanity. The ugliness of Jim Thompson (whose favorite writer happened to be Johnathan Swift) was redeemed somewhat by the madness and occasional pathos of his people.

No madness or pathos here. These are the two most hard-boiled ruthless people I've ever encountered in crime fiction. Of necessity (censors) the film softens them slightly but only slightly.

In broadstroke themovie plot is generally like the movie plot. Here's IMBD:

In Reno a man kills a girl he likes and her boyfriend out of jealousy; it may not be the first time. A woman whose divorce has just come through finds the bodies but decides not to become involved. The two meet next day on the train to San Francisco unaware of this link between them. They are attracted to each other, and the relationship survives his marriage to her half-sister for money and status. It even survives the woman discovering that he was the murderer, though she may not realise how easily someone who has killed this way before can do so again. Written by Jeremy Perkins {}

Ed here: The cast of characters, with very few exceptions, fit exactly Chabrol's description: "violent, ironic and macabre." The attitude of the book, which which Chabrol also notes, reels between black comedy and surrealism drenched in a misanthropy that is occasionally stunning. The two old floozies we meet in the early boarding house scenes are worthy of Thompson at his best.

Deadlier Than The Male is one of those odd litle books that is both unique and successful on its own terms. This should definitely be back in print.

*not the science fiction writer

Friday, February 01, 2008

Cinema Retro

Two exceptionally interesting pieces on Cinema Retro tonight:

Gayle Ann Hurd

"The stories are legion about how alumni from producer Roger Corman's low budget movies of the 1960s and 1970s helped launch many an actor and director to prominence. However, you can add a highly successful producer to the mix, as well. Gale Anne Hurd, producer of such blockbuster hits as The Terminator, Armageddon and Aliens, got her first break in show business learning the ropes on Corman's 1980 low budget sci fi "epic" Battle Beyond the Stars, a loose remake of The Magnificent Seven that starred an alumnus of that film, Robert Vaughn. It was on this movie that Hurd met her future partner and husband-to-be, James Cameron, who created the miniature spaceships for the film. In a revealing interview with The Desert Sun's website, Hurd recalls how she grew up amidst show business royalty and how she befriended Red Skelton as a child. She also talks about her ugly realization of the impact of anti-Semitism and how the prejudices she suffered only inspired her to become more successful. To read click here

Plus a long interview with Robert Osborne of Turner Classic Movies. If you haven't added the site to your link list, go forth and do it.'---

And for those of you old enough to remember Eddie Cochran, 2 Blowhards is sporting a You Tube video of him playing live in 1959 at (obviously) local Tv station. Great stuff.